Your Guide to Equine Health Care

Researchers Developing Equine Welfare Assessment Protocol

Swedish researchers are developing a research-based assessment for early detection of equine welfare issues.

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Do you know how to recognize equine welfare issues? While some signs of poor welfare are obvious, others are more subtle and possibly evident right in your own stable. According to Swedish researchers, there’s a great need for research-based welfare assessments that take the guesswork out of judging equine well-being. And they’ve been busy developing a new, user-friendly protocol that does just that.

"Assessing horse welfare is challenging and requires a mix of animal-based and resource-based measures, but we don’t often see a lot of animal-based measures in current protocols," said Sofie Viksten, MSc, a PhD student at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala. A resource-based measure looks at the condition of resources available to the horse, such as how clean their water is, she said. Animal-based measures are based on evaluations of the state of the animal, such as hoof and body condition, or the presence of sores on the mouth from bits and bridles.

"Current legislation (in most European countries that have animal welfare legislation, including Sweden) is not always research-based," she said. "Legislation also has a lot of gray areas, like mental health, natural behaviors, and how the horse is used and how that can affect its individual welfare." Viksten presented on the topic at the 2012 International Society for Equitation Science conference.

Viksten’s new protocol would call for regular assessments of horses in private holdings and in riding clubs and boarding stables that would allow owners to be alerted of possible welfare issues with their horses at an early stage, she said. Owners would then be advised on how to alter management of the horse in order to improve the

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Passionate about horses and science from the time she was riding her first Shetland Pony in Texas, Christa Lesté-Lasserre writes about scientific research that contributes to a better understanding of all equids. After undergrad studies in science, journalism, and literature, she received a master’s degree in creative writing. Now based in France, she aims to present the most fascinating aspect of equine science: the story it creates. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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